Mark Rothko worked on developing his Color Field style over several decades, with this particular painting have been completed in 1966. By that time he had spent well over two decades trying out different experiments in his abstract world where colour was more important than form. He desired to move away from depicting elements from reality and create a whole new environment upon some huge canvases that would dominate any galleries in which they were hung. Over time he would receive considerable backing from within the art community, particularly in New York City and eventually the public would become followers as well. With Untitled (Blue Divided by Blue) having been sold in 2007, it is likely to have achieved much more if the sale had been held around a decade or more later, as the valuations of his work have been rising quickly over that period and show no signs of slowing down any time soon.
Sotheby's have handled many Rothko sales in recent years, though would normally complete the auction from their New York office. Some of the key sales in the company's history included a version of The Scream which was sold in May 2012 for $119.9 million. There was also Mark Rothko's 1950 White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose), that went for an extraordinary $72.8 million in May 2007. Finally, there was Pablo Picasso's Dora Maar au Chat for $95 million back in 2006, which must have represented a busy few years for the auction house, perhaps impacted by issues around the global financial crisis which may have forced some to cash-in on their resources, or simply change their investment methods. Many of Rothko's paintings were sold off shortly after his death for nominal prices and these have then later appeared back in auction in this way, normally earning their owners huge profits.
Untitled (Blue Divided by Blue) is sized at 85.4cm by 65.3cm, making it relatively small by the standards of this artist. It was also acrylic on paper, which was then mounted onto canvas, rather than being applied directly. The smaller size may explain the lower value achieved at auction, as well as the colour scheme being slightly unusual within this period of the artist's career. The artist would start to make use of paper more towards the end of his career, and at this stage he was just starting that journey. He is known to have suffered emotionally during the last years of his life and this is reflected in his colour palettes which became very dark in most cases, but here he opts for a truly vibrant palette of blues which feels entirely out of kilter with most of what he was doing by this point.